SOLANA BEACH — When Graceband takes the stage at Belly Up on Aug. 18, it will be the eighth performance at the Solana Beach venue in three years.
But for Carlsbad resident Chris Maddox, who fronts the 12-piece Elvis tribute ensemble, the feeling never gets old.
“The Belly Up has been, and remains eight shows later, the dream place to play,” he said. “Part of it is because I grew up going to shows there, so I personally lived that. But also, it’s a super cool venue.
“The Rolling Stones have played there,” he added. “Paul McCartney’s played there. And the Foo Fighters have played there. How cool. It’s still a little surreal to me to see our poster on the wall. It still blows my mind.”
After their first gig in a neighborhood bowling alley, the band continued to play local clubs throughout high school and college, but broke up in 1998 after graduating to pursue other careers.
Maddox, a director of sales, eventually moved to Carlsbad, got married and had a son. In 2013 he reached out to original guitarist Ryan Roelen, whom he met in preschool, and told him he wouldn’t object to resurrecting the band. Within two weeks, Graceband was back together.
In addition to the original four, which also includes drummer George Steele and bass player Danny Behringer, Graceband features The Horns o’ Plenty — John Saffery, Jugo Vazquez, Robert Mukai and Jimmie Williams — guitarists Scott May and Eric Durham and backup singers Kate Walker and Caroline McLean, also known as The Gracenotes.
Together they practice three hours one night a week in Orange County — a midway point for most members — and perform about 20 shows a year.
“We turn down work because of work,” he said. “This is our golf. It takes time away from the family. It costs you money. But it’s a passion. Fortunately, that’s resonated with enough people that we can keep doing it.”
Maddox said he always starts the show by entering from the back of the room, “to connect with the crowd,” with high-fives, kisses and hugs.
He then opens with “C.C. Rider,” the first song Elvis sang at all his concerts. After a few high-energy classics, it’s time for the “walker,” a slow number that allows him to go into the crowd, pass out scarves — about 20 per show — and steal a few kisses.
But in light of the #MeToo movement, Maddox said he now offers a respectful disclaimer.
“I fully respect your personal space, but Elvis was a hugger.”
Beyond those few constants, every Graceband show is a little different, with new songs, dance moves and jokes.
In addition to the Belly Up, Graceband performs in Orange County, at Temecula wineries, at private parties and golf clubs and, for the fourth time this year, the San Diego County Fair.
He said there are a few reasons the band has been successful.
“We have 100 percent market share of a niche idea,” Maddox said. “We are the best and only regular-playing 12-piece Elvis band. … For that sound and that kind of music, we’re it.”
Plus, the music is fun.
“You can’t help but dance,” he said. “Everybody knows all the words. We can play a two-hour set and everyone will know the songs, even if you didn’t know you knew them.
“We truly love the source material,” Maddox added. “We’re trying to ooze joy and throw fun out at the audience. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Most importantly, he credits the fans, some of whom come back wearing the scarves they received, but with added sequins.
“It really is all about people,” he said. “When they leave the show, they don’t just say it sounded great. They say they had a great experience. That means everything.”
Among his favorite compliments are when people say they aren’t Elvis fans but they like Graceband or they are Elvis fans and didn’t expect to like Graceband but do.
As for his family, Maddox said his son “was a little freaked out at first,” embraces it now and has no desire to fill in when dad can no longer do Pilates in a 20-pound jumpsuit.
When it comes to affectionate Elvis, Maddox’s wife has two conditions.
“I can only kiss the same girl once and it has to be while I’m wearing the costume,” he said.
And what would the King think?
“We’re the Elvis tribute that I think Elvis would like,” Maddox said. “I think if he came back on a magic spaceship he would like Graceband and the spirit of what we’re doing.”
Graceband opens for Mustache Harbor on Aug. 18. The show begins at 9 p.m. Visit https://www.bellyup.com/ for more information and tickets.